Public consultation launched into pioneering technique

People’s views are being sought on a technique developed at Newcastle University to prevent mitochondrial disease, a rare but devastating medical condition.

The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has today launched a public consultation to gather people’s views about the social and ethical impact of new techniques to prevent mitochondrial diseases being passed down the maternal line.

They are being developed by Professors Doug Turnbull and Mary Herbert alongside colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University, which was opened last week.

Mary Herbert, Professor of Reproductive Biology said: "We want to make a difference to the lives of our patients who live with mitochondrial diseases. These can seriously affect the quality of life of both patients and their families and it often affects several generations.

"If we can stop that happening it will be a tremendous help for many hundreds of people who suffer with these diseases.

"We are now undertaking experiments to test the safety and efficacy of the new techniques and hope that this will inform the HFEA's decision making process.  This work may take three to five years to complete."

The technique involves transferring nuclear DNA, which contains our genetic make-up, between two human eggs to replace defective mitochondria – the 'batteries' that power the cells in our bodies. When these batteries fail, patients can develop devastating mitochondrial diseases with symptoms often affecting those tissues most heavily dependent on energy, such as the heart, muscles and brain.

The techniques have already been shown to work in the laboratory, but in a review of the scientific evidence, the HFEA last year requested further experiments to assess their safety before they can be safely and acceptably used in clinics for patients. Whilst this work is being undertaken, the HFEA is simultaneously consulting the public on its views towards these potentially controversial techniques.

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, says: “The work of Professor Turnbull and colleagues holds great promise for preventing previously incurable diseases and giving families affected by these diseases the chance to have healthy children, something most of us take for granted. The HFEA consultation provides an important opportunity for us to discuss with the public why we believe this technique is essential and to listen to any concerns they may have.”

Watch a video about how mitochondria disease can affect patients and the potential of the pioneering technique  and details of the consultation can be found on the HFEA website.

Further information on the work of the team at Newcastle University.


published on: 17th September 2012

Key Facts:

  • Newcastle University is a Russell Group University
  • Ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world (QS World University Rankings 2014)
  • Ranked 16th in the UK for global research power (REF 2014)
  • Ranked 10th overall in the UK and 3rd for quality of staff/lecturers in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2015
  • Winner: Outstanding Leadership and Management Team and Outstanding Procurement Team, Times Higher Leadership and Management Awards 2015
  • Amongst our peers Newcastle is:
    • Joint 6th in the UK for student satisfaction
    • Ranked 1st in the UK for Computing Science research impact, 3rd in the UK for Civil Engineering research power and 11th in the UK for Mathematical Sciences research (REF 2014)
    • Ranked 8th in the UK for Medical and Life Sciences research quality (REF 2014)
    • Ranked 3rd in the UK for English, and in the top 12 for Geography, Architecture and Planning, and Cultural and Media Studies research quality (REF 2014)
    • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) top 20 strategic partner
  • 94% of our students are in a job or further training within six months of graduating
  • We have a world-class reputation for research excellence and are spearheading three major societal challenges that have a significant impact on global society. These themes are: Ageing, Sustainability, and Social Renewal
  • Newcastle University is the first UK university to establish a fully owned international branch campus for medicine at its NUMed Campus in Malaysia which opened in 2011
  • 90% Satisfaction level from our international students (ISB 2014)
  • Newcastle University Business School is one of 20 Triple Accredited Business Schools in the UK